Romania revamps Dracula legend

Alison Mutler

28 May 2000

Romania has sunk its fangs into the vampire legend with a horror fest for Dracula devotees in deepest Transylvania.

No garlic, crucifixes or other banes of vampires were in sight when 30 Dracula buffs from the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Serbia and Canada joined locals to discuss Romania's most infamous son.

Instead, the ideas were more 21st century, as participants talked about Dracula on the Internet, for instance, or listened to the thoughts of an actress famed for playing Countess Dracula in the nude.

Some Romanians are offended that a national hero, Vlad the Impaler, a 16th century Romanian prince who hoisted his enemies on stakes, inspired writer Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, "Dracula," which in turn spawned the 20th–century vampire industry.

One presentation was too much even for die–hard Dracula fans – several congress participants walked out during the showing of a video showing a woman sucking blood from a man's neck. The footage was real.

Still, there were no detractors of the legend at the gathering inside the dingy Hotel Favorit, a communist–era hostel nestled in the pine trees and mountains of Transylvania, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Bucharest.

The four–day congress, which lasted through Sunday, is only part of a full tour devoted to Dracula. At dlrs 468 to dlrs 824 per head, the event is expensive in Romania, where the average monthly salary is less than the equivalent of dlrs 100.

Still, tourist managers hope the Count Dracula congress – the second since 1995 – will help attract badly needed tourists to Romania, if not now, then in the future.

A masked ball in Castle Dracula in Transylvania's Borgo Pass is planned next week, as is a visit to Vlad the Impaler's tomb on an island opposite a villa owned by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Mention of Dracula was officially forbidden under Ceausescu, who himself was nicknamed "Vampirescu" by Romanians for his draconian policies that sucked the country dry during 25 years of rule, ended in 1989 with his overthrow and execution.

At the congress, the experts paused in their discussions of Dracula for long lunches of bloody steak and Romanian white wine.

"Vlad was not devilish for his time. In fact he saved Romania," said Polish–born British actress Ingrid Pitt, alluding to his battles against invading Turks.

Pitt starred in the 1970 movie Countess Dracula and 1971 movie The Vampire Lovers, in which she strips in several scenes.

"Dracula represents a freedom of sexuality that is something the American society has mixed feelings about," said Victoria Amador from Silver City, New Mexico, who teaches a course on vampire literature at Western New Mexico University.

She is planning a vampire–theme wedding in Scotland this fall. A dress of deep raspberry silk, drop earrings in the shape of fangs and raspberry punch are some of the tributes she plans to pay to Dracula.

For Romanian craftsman Teodor Stanciu, who makes Dracula copper engravings and sells plum brandy, the vampire is his lifeblood. "It is an inestimable legacy that Bram Stoker left us, and we don't know how to use it."

Others question whether the hoopla is fitting.

"If he rose from his grave and saw how we have mocked him, he'd impale the lot of us," said Maria Pascu, selling Dracula dolls from Bran Castle about 35 kilometers (23 miles) south of Poiana Brasov.

Original article